From “The Wine-Dark Sea” by Robert Aickman


“That same evening, he heard the women shouting and laughing, out beyond the gateway to the harbour. He went to look. The sky was almost emerald green and they moved in magnificent silhouette against it. The three of them stood above the water’s edge and below the harbour causeway, on the side of the island away from the basin. Grigg found the beauty of their movement incomparable. He stood watching them for some time, as if they presented a merely formal spectacle, of maenads on a vase, or ballet dancers, before he clearly realised that they were not merely throwing stones, but very much aiming at a target. He walked down the causeway, and stood behind them, looking over their heads.

Floating in the emerald sea beneath the emerald sky was a body; though it was unlikely to be afloat much longer, as the women knew how to throw, and every stone hit true and hard. Grigg could see the body quite well: it had belonged to a fat, elderly, clean-shaven man with a big, bald head, and was dressed in a dark, conventional suit, of which the open jacket spread out in the water, like a pair of fins. All round the body the sea was red, like the death of a whale. Grigg shuddered as he thought of the whale.

The skilled throwing went on for another minute or two, a marvel of ancient beauty, and then, suddenly, the body collapsed and sank. Grigg could hear the water pouring in, as into a pierced gourd. The women, apparently still unaware of him, stood in lovely silent attitudes and watched it go. When they saw nothing left but the fading patch of carmine, they turned, saw Grigg, and advanced laughing and gesticulating, their hair dishevelled and their faces flushed with excitement.

‘Who was he?’ asked Grigg.

‘A tourist. They fall out of boats.’

‘They fall off pier-heads.’

‘They fall from Heaven.’”

(Art by Barbara Friedman)


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